A timely exploration of whether sound and listening can be the basis of political change.
In a world dominated by the visual, could contemporary resistances be auditory? This timely and important book from Goldsmiths Press highlights sound's invisible, disruptive, and affective qualities and asks whether the unseen nature of sound can support a political transformation. In Sonic Agency, Brandon LaBelle sets out to engage contemporary social and political crises by way of sonic thought and imagination. He divides sound's functions into four figures of resistance—the invisible, the overheard, the itinerant, and the weak—and argues for their role in creating alternative “unlikely publics” in which to foster mutuality and dissent. He highlights existing sonic cultures and social initiatives that utilize or deploy sound and listening to address conflict, and points to their work as models for a wider movement. He considers issues of disappearance and hidden culture, nonviolence and noise, creole poetics, and networked life, aiming to unsettle traditional notions of the “space of appearance” as the condition for political action and survival.
By examining the experience of listening and being heard, LaBelle illuminates a path from the fringes toward hope, citizenship, and vibrancy. In a current climate that has left many feeling they have lost their voices, it may be sound itself that restores it to them.
About the Author
Brandon LaBelle is Professor in New Media in the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design at the University of Bergen. He is the author of Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary, Diary of an Imaginary Egyptian, Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life, and Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art.
"With poignant examples, philosophical acumen and palpable care, Sonic Agency probes the depth of sound in social life for what it can humanly (and nonhumanly) do, helping readers understand the politics of the always audible but rarely heard."
– Deborah Kapchan, Associate Professor of Performance Studies, New York University
"LaBelle is correct to stress that the public sphere is usually imagined and understood in relation to visibility, and far less often in relation to sound. Sound offers a way into thinking about who and what is unseen, and appears, on the surface, to offer a more radical, if harder to grasp conception of what insurrectionary politics might look, or rather sound, like."
– Nina Power, The Wire
"Sonic Agency presents a passionate attempt at thinking through questions of the emergence of publics and counterpublics — of coming together in a world that isolates us."
– Nora Sternfeld, Professor of Practice, Aalto University